Archive for July, 2019

It’s 50 years since a human being set foot on the Moon, so there’s been a lot of reminiscing recently. There’s no doubt that journey was more than a great technological achievement. It suddenly made the distance between the Moon and the Earth seem much smaller. Human beings have imagined trips to the Moon for centuries now, but, in that “One small step for Man….” the journey became a reality.

However, the change in perspective which has impressed me even more, is one which, although it is at least as ancient as imagining Moon trips, is represented by the famous photograph taken of the Earth rising above the horizon of the Moon.

This was taken by one of the astronauts on an earlier mission. It gave a powerful and striking impression of the concepts of “Spaceship Earth”, “Blue marble” and other terms people have used to describe the Earth when seen from afar.

I got thinking of this partly because of the coverage of the moon landings, but also because I happen to be reading a book by the French philosopher, Pierre Hadot. The essay I read is about the “spiritual exercise” of the classical philosophers which involves using your imagination to make a trip up into the skies. There are two elements to this exercise. The first is referred to as the “view from on high”. Think of a time you’ve looked out over the landscape from the top of a high hill. You can see the rivers, the forests, the human habitations of individual houses, villages or towns. One of the things you get is a profound change of perspective. By seeing the greater whole, you see the contexts of the elements. You get an understanding of how there it a tree line, a level on the slopes of the mountains above which no trees grow. You can see the scale and the scope of the rivers, and maybe even see the traces of where the rivers used to run before they changed to their current paths.

Go a bit higher now and imagine one of those photos you’ve seen taken from orbiting satellites or the International Space Station and now you can see whole countries, even continents. You can see lakes which have dried up, jungles which are shrinking, deserts which are expanding.

Higher again, till you see the Earth in the distance. That beautiful, but impossibly small, “blue marble”. You see the swirls of cloud formations, the spirals of hurricanes, you see the oceans and the landmasses. You know your home is down there somewhere on the surface. You know the country of your birth is there, but unless it’s completely bounded by water, you can’t see the borders between it and any other country.

Now go higher again, and sweep out through the Solar System, off through the Milky Way, heading at the speed of thought, that speed which is not limited the way the speed of light is, and see our galaxy shrinking to a cluster of stars, a single galaxy amongst millions of others, some larger, some smaller, some about the same size as “ours”. This it the second element. The ancients called it “the cosmic voyage”. You begin to get a sense of the vastness of the universe, and of the smallness of our own little neighbourhood of planets revolving around a single star.

The Epicureans saw this as a liberation from the boundaries of terrestrial life, and a way of connecting to, and immersing yourself in, eternity and infinity. They described it as a “divine pleasure”.

The Stoics said that to find peace and serenity, you should contemplate Nature and everything you find in her; that you should explore the earth, the sea, the air and the sky “attentively”; that you should follow the Moon, the Sun and the Stars with your thought; that you should keep your feet on the ground but let your spirit soar high to discover the “universal laws” and the “powers of the universe”; and that, in so doing, you would become “citizens of the cosmos”.

How beautiful is this? How enchanting? How much more positive that Theresa May’s jibe that those who wanted to belong to more than one country were “citizens of nowhere”!

Plato said that aligning the movements of your spirit with the movements of the stars in the cosmos brought harmony and well-being. Whilst some would interpret that astrologically, I understand it as a call to realism. I see it as a counsel to live harmoniously with the natural laws, of both this planet, and of the cosmos.

Hadot stresses that this exercise can have a double effect. It can produce feelings of happiness and serenity by immersing yourself in Nature, and it can allow you to enjoy a certain distancing which lets you re-evaluate the life and judge things differently (not least by seeing them within their contexts)

Seneca said that when you see how tiny the Earth looks from Space you can see how human beings share the planet with sword and fire. He says you can see how “risible” the frontiers are, and how laughable the luxuries of the rich are.

Lucien applies this exercise in the context of time rather than space and recommends it to historians. He says that when historians take the “view from on high” they can observe with impartiality, courage and a positive regard towards everyone ie to opposing sides in conflicts. He recommends that these same values, impartiality, courage and a positive regard, also influence the way historians report “the facts”.

That reminded me of the historian, Rutger Bergman, who wrote “Utopia for Realists“. I heard him say that becoming a historian allowed him to see how nothing lasts, how great cities and civilisations come and go, and how so much in human life is an invention – money, laws, borders – and that made him optimistic because the historical perspective showed him all these things can be changed. One of his key themes in his book is the abolition of borders. He points out that passports became a common practice only after World War One, and that the only countries which had them before that were the Russia and the Ottoman Empire.

It also reminded me a book I recently purchased which describes the kings and emperors of France over the centuries. Each entry includes a map which shows the territory that king, or emperor, commanded. In the process, you see the emerging shape of the country we now call France. You can do that for any country really. We tend to forget that the modern nation states are an invention.

I love this exercise, and I think our more recent discoveries about the history of the universe, about the complexity of the cosmos, and of the complex adaptive nature of all living organisms, have revealed all the more that everything is connected and that everything changes, just as Marcus Aurelius wrote all those years ago.


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Burden of proof

One of my favourite French magazines is “Sens et Santé” (that translates as “Sense and Health”). The latest issue has a major section on the effects on human health of exposure to natural environments. They describe several scientific studies showing lowering of inflammatory substances in the body after walking, or contemplating, in a forest, reductions in blood sugar levels, improvements in mood levels, reductions in the need for painkillers, and the famous study showing post surgical patients with a view of a wall required more medication and longer admissions than those who had a view of trees outside.

They even describe the inspiring “nature prescriptions” project in Shetland where GPs are giving patients a calendar of activities in nature to pursue each week. The calendar is a joint project of the local health service and the RSPB (the UK’s bird charity).

I delighted in reading all of this, but then I wondered do we really need research to “prove” or even simply highlight the health benefits of spending time in nature?

Does any of this information change my mind about anything? No. I’ve been convinced that natural environments are “a good thing” for a long time.

Maybe these studies just reinforce my confidence in my views and my beliefs?

Well, I’m not so sure. I think they deepen my understanding.

And that, for me, is science at its best.

I don’t see science as a way to gain control over the world, although that does seem to be the dominant view these days. No, I like science when it provokes my curiosity, stimulates my “émerveillement” (wonder and delight), and deepens my understanding of the world.

The philosopher Deleuze described three ways of thinking. Philosophy, he said, was thinking about concepts, art, thinking about percepts and affects, and science, thinking about function.

In that scheme, science helps me to understand how something comes to be the way it is. It answers “how?” but not necessarily “why?”.

I reckon Deleuze got it right and we need all these ways of thinking to better understand the world.

Since I retired and moved to France I’ve read a lot of philosophy. I’m not trained in philosophy. I just enjoy it. It struck me the other day that philosophy doesn’t really present itself as the ultimate, be all and end all, the way modern science does too often.

Philosophy seems more about opening the doors to understanding and reflection, to thinking, “if I look at the world this way, then…..” and a path of exploration lies ahead.

Science which pursues certainty too often claims “the truth, the only truth” and discards any alternatives. At least, that’s the kind of science I like least. All those headlines that science has proven this or that or disproved that or this. I can’t be doing with them. It seems to me there’s a difference between seeking utility and seeking understanding.

I visited the Chateau de Clos Lucé in the Loire Valley where Leonardo da Vinci spent his last few years. The king, Francois 1st, invited him, gave him board and lodging plus an annual grant and told him he was free to do whatever he wanted. All the king wanted in return was a daily conversation with him. How many scientists would love that kind of arrangement over their current publication driven grant seeking working lives? How different might our world be if we just supported scientific pursuit of understanding, in the realistic knowledge that understanding is never complete, never “the truth, the only truth”? Seems to me that might be better than the agenda of prediction and control funded by those who seek wealth and power.

I didn’t expect this post to go this way but I’ll finish by saying I love the scientific pursuit of understanding but I’ve also come to love the philosophical pursuit of “how might I live”. I think that’s why I like “Sens et Santé”.

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One of the signature plants here in the Charente is the Hollyhock (“rose trémière”). They are astonishing plants which surge upwards of two metres and they produce glorious brightly coloured flowers. It’s not just their rate of growth and their ultimate towering stature which impresses me though.

What really attracts me to them is how surprising they are. You never know, from year to year, just where one is going to grow, you never know which ones are going to grow to the greatest heights and you have no way of knowing just when they are going to produce these fabulous flowers, not only at the tops of their stems, but apparently randomly along the length of each plant.

In a sense, I see them as the local Charentaise version of the Japanese cherry blossoms. In Japan the appearance of the cherry blossom is much anticipated and celebrated. More than their beauty, the blossom is a symbol of transience which inspires people to “savour the day” – because, like the blossom, nothing in life will last. It’s the transience of the cherry blossom which makes it so meaningful.

Well, for me, I equally anticipate the appearance of the hollyhocks and their glorious, towering flowers. I think because each and every one of these amazing plants stands alone, they inspire me to think about transience in a similar way to cherry blossom, but they do something else too. They remind me, every time, of how the future path of any individual life is so unpredictable.

Why should that be something to relish?

The essence of my working life as a generalist medical doctor was to meet with patients one at a time. I’d look forward to every Monday morning because it would be the start of a working week filled with people who would come into my room, sit down, and tell me the most amazing, unique stories.

No two people told the same story.

Understanding a patient’s story is a way of helping them to make sense of what’s happening in their life. It’s also part of what doctors call making a diagnosis. I always saw diagnosis as a level of understanding, not a conclusion, not a label, not a category to place a patient into, not a starting point in a protocol, but the beginning of an understanding.

With that initial understanding would come some sense of the past. In other words it could be the start of making sense of how the present illness had come about, what events and circumstances had contributed to it. But what also came was an opening up of a set of possible/potential futures. Doctors call such an analysis a prognosis. I’d look ahead, taking what knowledge and experience I had of people, of disease, of the typical life history of certain illnesses, and see this unique, particular patient in that context.

Doctors have to be careful when making a prognosis. It’s always only an estimate, an informed expectation. But at the level of the particular, the unique, the individual patient, the path ahead would only be revealed over time.

Remembering that kept reminding me to be humble.

Remembering that kept reminding me that in Life, we never have ALL the information. We always make our understandings and our predictions on the basis of partial, and limited information. There will ALWAYS be more to discover, more to learn, more to learn about everyone.

There’s a fairly new term in biology and philosophy to describe how the future unfolds this way. It’s called “emergence”. Emergence is the development of new patterns, new behaviours, new structures, which could not have been predicted in detail from the prior knowledge. It’s typical of all living organisms.

The individual hollyhock plants remind me of that. They demonstrate this “emergence” beautifully.

Their daily growth astonishes me. Their ultimate size astounds me. Their particular flowers amaze me. I know each seed holds this kind of potential, but I have no way of knowing which particular seed will grow a plant of this actual size, in this particular place in the garden, the driveway, the street, or the roadside.

See, for me, not knowing what lies ahead isn’t primarily a frightening thing. Sure, it’s possible to begin to imagine all the things which can go wrong, to press the fear and panic buttons, but that’s rarely very helpful. Instead, I found, and I still find, I look forward primarily with hope and a positive expectation, and if things don’t turn out that way, I reassess, take stock and consider a different future. It’s a process, not an algorithm leading to an end point. It’s a way of living, deepening and broadening knowledge and understanding at the level of the individual whilst looking forward, with realistic hope, as we interact with, and adapt to, the present.

It’s great to be astonished every day.

I love to be amazed and delighted at the unfolding present. I find it thrilling to witness the future making itself known through this phenomenon of emergence.

Hollyhocks do all that for me. Are there particular plants which are special for you? And why?


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See this little bird? She’s a redstart. There are a pair of them who spend a lot of time in my garden in the summer months. I first spotted a male a few years back and was struck by his distinctive call. I even got to imitating it and “having some conversations with him” – well, I know, that’s pushing it a bit far. I’ve no idea what he was telling me and I suspect he had no idea what I was telling him. After all, I’m not even sure, myself, what I was telling him! He disappeared over the winter and then reappeared the falling Spring. I heard him before I saw him, and I had a hunch he recognised me.

Can wild birds recognise individual human beings? I read a report of a study recently which suggests that they can. I can’t say that surprised me. I have a strong feeling that we have become familiar to each other.

Since then he’s come back every summer and this summer, in particular, his partner has been about a lot too. I find that pretty much any time I go out into the garden to sit and read, that within a few minutes one of the pair, or occasionally, both of them, turn up nearby, watch me for a bit, then hop down onto the grass, getting ever closer, before nabbing a fallen mulberry or something and flying off.

This photo here is a rare success. As I sat with my book I noticed her on the fence post and slid my phone from my pocket to grab a quick shot. Then she flew off.

Now, I have no idea how much of this is my imagination but I do get a good feeling when one of these little birds comes to join me for a few minutes. And that got me thinking about the importance of relationships in life. How important it is for us to form and experience bonds, not just with other people, but with other living creatures, whether they be birds, trees or flowers!

I think these bonds we form have a special quality. They enhance life, they add flavour to the ordinary day, they “enchant” us. Literally. So how do they come about? Well, I’ve got a theory.

They come about through a particular kind of attention – “Positive Intention Attention” (PIA) – I think when we pay attention with positive intent that we create bonds, bonds of mutual benefit, “integrated bonds”, healthy, life-sustaining, life-enhancing bonds. That’s what I mean by “positive intent” – an intention to create bonds of mutual benefit.

So, I’ve decided that’s what I want to do more of, every day – pay Positive Intention Attention to the experiences, events and phenomena of the every day – and, by doing that, I have a hunch, the every day will become just that bit more extra-ordinary…..


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Just over a month ago we had a brief but intense storm which did a bit of damage, including snapping the stem of this tomato plant. Most of the plant was at right angles to its base, but there was a thin sliver of stem still connected. So I got out a rather unorthodox gardening tool – gaffer tape – and taped it up around the break. (Reminded me of putting plasters on broken arms and legs!) And look at it now!

We had the first of the ripe tomatoes the other day and they were delicious.

Now part of me is just amazed at the resilience of plants, but mostly it makes me think about a fundamental characteristic of all living creatures, including human beings.

A new concept in science, and biology, started circulating a couple of decades ago. It goes by the name of “complex adaptive systems“. Basically, this applies to all forms of life because they all have vast interconnected networks of cells and molecules. When you get these vast networks certain characteristics appear, and, in the case of living organisms that includes “self-making capacity”, termed “autopoiesis” by Maturna and Varela. That means the ability to make itself, which encompasses growth, repair and reproduction. I find it a more useful term than the old “homeostasis” used in biology and Medicine, which suggested the maintenance of a stable, internal environment, but didn’t capture the key features of repair, growth and reproduction.

There’s an older term, not used very much in Medicine (I don’t know why), which is the ability to “self-heal”. I think self-healing is just an aspect of autopoiesis.

This is exactly what the story of this tomato plant demonstrates. The capacity of a living organism to heal, to repair, and to grow again – given the right support. And here’s the nub of what I want to say – that’s what we doctors actually do – we support self-healing. At least, that’s what we do when we don’t cause harm!

Yet it’s common to think that doctors can heal, that they can cure diseases. And it’s common for people to believe that drugs do that. They heal. They cure. Except they don’t.

Neither doctors nor drugs heal or cure.

What they do (optimally) is support self-healing. It is ALWAYS the organism which heals itself. There is no healing, no cure, without autopoiesis doing what it does. Which isn’t to say it can always do that all by itself. Nope, it might need help. That help, however, is not a substitute for self-repair and self-healing.

Good treatments can do one of two things – they can nurture the conditions for self-healing, or, they can directly stimulate some aspect of it.

Maybe it would be good to remind ourselves of that. The power of healing lies in the natural functions of the complex adaptive system. I think it’s worthwhile considering that when undertaking any form of treatment. Is this treatment going to nurture the conditions for my self-healing, or harm them? Is it going to directly stimulate some aspect of my self-healing, and, if not, then what is it doing?

Of course, there’s also a lot more to think about than just treatments. What nurtures the conditions for autopoiesis in my life? And what impairs it? That takes us into a whole related area of the environment, of food, movement, relationships, adequate housing and finance……what comes up for you when you start to consider that?

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This morning, at dawn, the clouds in the sky turned pink….a pink echoed in the flowers of this bush in the garden.

Pleasing, isn’t it?

It got me thinking about how often we come across this in life…..where there are resonances, where one phenomenon seems so “in tune” with another. When we encounter them I think we stumble across what is Beautiful, Good, and True. It thrills the mind, delights the heart, and enlivens the body.

Think for a moment about how we function, we human beings. There are so many individual cells within our body that nobody can count them. Billions of them. And here’s the amazing thing. They work together all the time. When our body is in a state of good health, all these cells, all our tissues, all our organs and our systems are working in harmony with each other.

Some people say they are “integrated”. What does that mean? I like Dan Siegel‘s definition –

integration is the creation of mutually beneficial bonds between well differentiated parts.

Notice the two elements of that definition.

“Mutually beneficial bonds”. Isn’t this a fundamental fact of life? We exist in relationship. As does every single cell and part of our being. A particular kind of relationship – a mutually beneficial one. We are perhaps the most social of creatures, wired and genetically determined to form bonds with others. If a newborn baby didn’t do that life wouldn’t last very long. We need the loving attention and care of others from the moment of our very first breath.

The second part of the definition is “well differentiated parts”. Uniqueness and diversity are also facts of life. No two cells are fully identical, not when we consider them in their contexts of time and space. We don’t develop healthy hearts and minds by making all the heart cells and brain cells the same. We need them to be different. But we need them to work in harmony with each other. Not in competition with each other.

When we live in harmony with others and with the rest of the planet I suspect we give ourselves the best possible chance of health and thriving. In fact, is this not the origin of “dis-ease”? Where we fall out of harmony with ourselves and our world? Maybe we need more emphasis on resonance and harmony, and less on competition and individualism…..


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This first photo is taken from my front door first thing in the morning.

The next one is taken at the end of the day, as the sun sets, casting a pink glow over the clouds and the moon (see that little white dot in the middle?) begins to shine for the night.

One of my favourite classical philosophical practices is “First and Last”.

It teaches us to remember that every moment we experience today comes into our life for the very first time. Although I can step out into the garden every summer morning and see this mulberry tree and the blue sky above and around it, I remember that I’ve never experienced it today before.

The tree doesn’t stay the same. Actually, this particular tree has grown enormously since we moved here five years ago. I have the notion its thriving because it enjoys our presence and our attention. I know the reciprocal is true – I feel part of my own thriving is down to the presence of this tree a few steps from the front door. Does it pay attention to me? Well, maybe that’s stretching things a bit too far, but my gut feeling says it’s at least aware of my presence. This year’s mulberry crop is a bumper one and I’m so glad that there are so many birds, of so many kinds, which enjoy eating them. I enjoy them too but sharing is so much more satisfying, don’t you think?

We lose something when we zip through life burdened with anxieties and ruminations. The “First and Last” teaching suggests that if we slow down we can become more aware of the unique context of every single experience. The differences from day to day might be subtle, or they might be huge, but they are always there. The morning I took this photograph was unique. I’d never woken up and stepped into this particular morning before.

At the end of the day I looked out of the window and noticed how pink the sky was, so I went outside and took this photo. You have to be quick when you take a photo of a sunset, or of the sky at sunset. The sun sinks astonishingly quickly, and the light and colours change within each second. A photo taken at this particular moment will be different from another one taken a minute or two later. It’s the same with every sunset.

This speed of change in the sky, this rapid sinking of the sun (which is actually the rapid rising of the horizon of the Earth as it turns, and not the Sun “sinking” at all!) makes me acutely aware of the second part of the teaching. Every moment we experience in this life, we experience, not just for the first time, but, also, for the last. If I want to capture the particular view I see in this moment, I’d better press that shutter, because in a few moments time, my chance will have gone, and taken with it the light and the colour.

Remembering that every single encounter we have, every single experience we have, every single moment in a day, will be our first AND our last opportunity to experience it makes it all so much more precious.

I think if you aren’t aware that this is your first and your last opportunity to experience today, then you aren’t paying enough attention! It’s never “just another day”!

I gave up saying “Seize the Day” before I even started saying it. I prefer to say “Savour the Day” instead…..or perhaps, even better, “Savour every single Moment” …… Try it. You might like it.

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This is one my favourite photos from a recent trip to Segovia in Spain. It shows examples of two classes of “things” – “things that change VERY slowly” and “things that change VERY quickly”!

First, the stones…….the Roman aqueduct in Segovia is the longest in tact aqueduct in Europe. It was completed in the 112 AD to take water from the Rio Frio 17 kilometres away into the heart of the city. Constructed with huge granite blocks placed on top of each other without any mortar to hold them together it functioned right up to the mid 19th century.

Isn’t it astonishing? I wonder how many of construction projects of the last 100 years will have this kind of longevity?

However, although it looks as if it is unchanged over almost 2000 years in fact part of it was destroyed by the Moors, and rebuilt in the 15th Century during the time of Ferdinand and Isabella. Also, there are some cracks in the granite now, due to pollution and water damage from leaks over the centuries. Still, 2000 years is a long time. In any one human life time these stones look like the kind of objects which keep their structure and form day after day, month after month, year after year.

Second, the clouds…….clouds are water droplets condensing and evaporating continuously. I challenge you to find the edge of a cloud! They just don’t keep their shape for more than a few seconds. They appear out of, and dissolve back into, the blue, blue sky around them…..constantly.

When we don’t stop to think about it, these are both objects, these stones and clouds, but they are SO different I sometimes wonder if we need to stop applying a single word to them both. They aren’t just “things”. But they are both beautiful, don’t you think?



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One of my most favourite cities is Segovia, in Spain. Perhaps its most striking feature is the Roman aqueduct. It begins as a pretty average sized wall, then column by column, arch by arch it gets bigger and bigger and bigger, straddling the town below until it reaches the old castle.

In this first part houses have been built on each side of it. I don’t think I’ve ever come across such an astonishing structure running right down the middle a street!

One of the first of the town’s squares lies at the foot of the aqueduct just as it reaches its greatest height.

I find this SO inspiring! Here’s what it got me thinking last time I was there…..

Throughout my career as a doctor I saw time as linear. Perhaps because the second half of my working life was in a specialist centre for people with chronic (long term) conditions, I commonly heard patients tell me of the traumas which they had experienced prior to becoming unwell.

I was never someone who bought into a mechanical, linear view of human beings, or of life. Every patient I met convinced me that all these chronic ailments are multi-factorial. You could never say that “this” caused “all that”. But there was one question I frequently found revelatory.

“When were you last completely well?”

Sounds an easy question, huh? But, actually, it was often difficult, and took some time and conversation to find the time, perhaps even several decades ago, when the patient last felt completely well. I’d then ask about the year the patient moved from wellness to illness.

“Tell me about that year”.

It was often a year of significant trauma, or the culmination of many traumas. I don’t think that meant that the patient’s illness could all be attributed to that trauma, but it was a starting point in making sense of their experience and beginning to find the way forward.

Sometimes patients were clearly stuck with these unresolved hurts. Again and again they’d think about those times, feel bad about them all over again. Others were so traumatised that they were living lives of fear, continually looking ahead and wondering “what if….?” “what might happen?” “how will I cope if….?” and things like that.

In both of these scenarios I’d draw a straight line – and say, the left hand point of this line is your date of birth, the right hand, the date of your death. We know the first, and have no way of knowing the second. But right now, today, you are somewhere along that line. Where is your attention? Where is your focus? Because if it’s to the left of today, it’s in the past, and that doesn’t exist any more, except in your memory. If it’s to the right, it’s in the future, and that only exists in your imagination. You can’t have your attention in more than one place at a time, so what if you draw your attention into the present instead? How might that feel? And we’d then explore ways of living more in the present reality, than in the past traumas and future fears.

I think it was often helpful, but now it seems somewhat simplistic to me. Because I now see time is not as linear as I thought. In fact, seeing cycles and seasons of time makes rather more sense to me now. As I experience a place like Segovia I realise that the past doesn’t go away. It doesn’t disappear into memory. (and memory is not an artificial place anyway….it’s no dusty filing cabinet with the drawers all locked)

Rather the past is always present, always here, and always now. It fashions our every day. It colours our every experience. It sets the tone of today. It constantly challenges us to respond to it, to adapt. In fact, that’s how we learn isn’t it? By having an awareness of the past in the present? If we forgot and discarded everything we experienced how could we learn anything? We adapt by carrying with us the past into the present.

And although this is even more challenging, the future is here now too. Not least because the future is, in one sense, a “multiplicity of singularities” – a set of possible paths, which are, at least in part, fashioned by this present moment, and by each and every decision and action.

I don’t think the past goes away. I don’t think the old “time heals” is true in the sense that it makes the past go away. Instead I think we learn to adapt to it. When we become aware of the past in our everyday we have the opportunities to create new responses, new strategies of living under it’s influence.

OK, so, this is not where I thought this post would go when I pasted in those photos of the aqueduct! But here’s a related thought – how does the presence of the past in today, as we see in this colossal aqueduct stretching over Segovia, shape, fashion, influence, inspire, challenge, stimulate the thoughts, feelings and actions of the people living there?

And so, of course, even when the past isn’t as obvious as this aqueduct, how does it’s presence today influence our experience of today?

Here’s the final part of that story – we don’t heal just by shifting our focus, we heal by becoming aware, aware of the past AND the future IN this present day, and realising we can change how we respond to that. Realising our current patterns aren’t fixed. We can alter them.

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I noticed this on a wall recently. First, I find this beautiful. I find it very appealing. Second, it expresses one of the commonest, most fundamental patterns in the universe – let’s refer to it as branching.

Because I’m doctor, I often start by thinking about the human body, and in the body there are many, many examples of this branching structure. Perhaps the most obvious in the respiratory system. We breathe in air and it travels down the trachea (some people call the trachea “the windpipe”). After a short distance it branches into two tubes, one heading to the left lung and one to the right. From there on there, the pattern repeats, branching into smaller and smaller passageways, until, the smallest ones end in little bunches of grapes, called “alveoli” (OK, I know, they aren’t actually grapes! They just look a bit like that!) Similarly, the vessels which distribute the blood around the body, start from a big one right out of the heart, which branches into smaller and smaller vessels, the further away it gets from the heart, till in the tips of our toes and fingers, in the skin, the vessels become hair like (“capillaries”). The blood then gets back to the heart following a similarly patterned set of vessels (“veins”) coursing along the tiny ones, which join together to make bigger and bigger ones, till one big one channels all the blood back to the heart.

Does that pattern remind you of anything? The journey from mountain springs to river estuaries perhaps? Or trees!

Sometimes I wonder if that’s one of the reasons we find trees so appealing? That they echo one of our most fundamental internal structures.

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